August 28, 2009

With the traditional flu season just around the corner and the expected second wave of Novel H1N1 influenza looming, many community leaders are seeking how best to prepare. A recent Extension Disaster Education Network webinar focused on equipping extension and community leaders with the most up-to-date information and resources about Novel H1N1 influenza.

Andrea Husband, the agrosecurity program coordinator for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture , is part of EDEN's Pandemic Rapid Response Team. The team has dedicated a section of their Web site to pandemic influenza resources.

"There is significant interest and concern about the current and future impact of H1N1, and EDEN is actively preparing educational resources to assist our extension educators in providing accurate information to our clientele," Husband said. "The webinar was an effort to show our leaders all the information EDEN has to offer so they will know where to go to find answers to questions they may receive in future months."

In anticipation of the second wave of Novel H1N1 influenza, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius advised in early August that preparedness starts with individuals and families. Husband emphasized the importance of equipping extension agents and leaders since they often are trusted sources of information in their communities and have direct contact with the public on a daily basis.

Abigail Boron, communications specialist for EDEN at Purdue University, said right now is a very teachable moment for educators where H1N1 is concerned.

"We need to understand the current situation and its implications to humans and animals, so we can better serve our clientele," she said.

Tanya Graham, an associate professor at South Dakota State University, spoke at the webinar. She said that Novel H1N1 influenza will be around in the United States for several years. The Centers for Disease Control anticipates that 40 percent of the U.S. population will contract Novel H1N1 influenza over the next two years.

"When something sticks around for awhile, people tend to get relaxed and stop paying so much attention to it," Husband said. "But with H1N1, extension educators need to keep stressing the importance of good personal hygiene and staying home if you're sick. Covering your cough might not be enough; it's the way you cover it that matters."

Husband was referring to covering a cough with a hand, which could transmit viruses from the infected person to anything they touch. Instead, people should cough into their sleeve at the bend of their elbow to minimize transmission.

Graham said it's important to note that most cases of Novel H1N1 influenza are mild to moderate and infected individuals fully recover. She said most deaths from the influenza have been in persons with underlying health conditions.

"Don't wait until it affects someone close to you to take precautions," Husband said. "Have a plan on how you will deal with it beforehand. EDEN stresses preparedness and offers many tools to help individuals ready themselves before any kind of disaster, from flu to floods."

Since the CDC recommends those who are sick stay home at least 24 hours after fever has subsided, it may help to have supplies ready for an extended home stay.

"Pandemic influenza is not a short duration disaster such as a tornado or hurricane," Husband said. "The scope, duration and possible disruption of commerce and daily life as we know it demands that we be prepared to take care of ourselves for two to six weeks. While a 72-hour emergency kit may work well for some disasters, it likely will not be enough for pandemic influenza. EDEN points to many excellent resources to help individuals, families, schools, businesses, child care facilities, and faith-based/volunteer and community organizations plan and prepare for pandemic influenza."

One notable resource EDEN links to is Ready America, which offers a way for people to calculate their emergency supply needs and then assembles a printable shopping list to make preparation easier.

"Since a vaccine won't be widely available until at least Thanksgiving and the initial demand for that vaccine may exceed the supply, we just want people to know what to do if someone they live with or work with contracts H1N1," Husband said. "Just be smart, plan ahead and don't panic."

Renita Marshall, a doctor of veterinary medicine and director of livestock programs at Southern University in Louisiana, spoke about the swine link to Novel H1N1 influenza. She emphasized that people will not contract the virus by eating pork products.

"Classic swine influenza has been here and will be here in the United States," she said. "We routinely deal with it here and around the world."

 Marshall said the only way people could get influenza from pigs is by having direct contact with infected live animals.

For more information on pandemic preparedness and specific Novel H1N1 influenza resources, visit EDEN's Website at http://www.eden.lsu.edu and click on the Pandemic Influenza link under the issues tab in the left column or contact the local Cooperative Extension Office in each Kentucky county.